Bon Lassie Shashi and the Bhang Lassi

Pushkar, a holy city, is the perfect place for the traveller to go to experience the full experience of a religious festival in India. A small collection of white-washed buildings scattered around a sacred lake in the Thar Desert; Pushkar is truly a chilled out hang out for travellers.

Pushkar brings on the Indian spiritual vibe 100 per cent. As you wander along the labyrinth of narrow walkways, you will hear the constant sounds of Hindu chants on loudspeakers across the town. As you turn a corner, you may come face to face with a camel or a holy cow. As you make your way down to the lakeside, you are likely to be accosted by men outside the temple, willing you to partake in a spiritual ceremony at the lake (for a small donation…). As you watch the sun set over the water, you will hear the sounds of drumming start at one side of the lake and gradually work around the lake as the sun disappears. Hare Krishna Shiva Shambol. Bring it on.

As well as all of this spiritual delight, there is one other thing that Pushkar is famous for: a local drink called the Bhang Lassie. This is a yoghurt drink, but is no ordinary smoothy. For the Bhang lassie contains a mushy pulp of marijuana, giving the drink it's characteristic mouldy-green colour. To the Hindus this is also part of their spirituality; a bhang lassi can open your third eye and reveal deep spiritual truths. To the average traveller however, this divine purpose is often overlooked.

My mistake was to try to combine a huge Hindi festival with a bhang lassie experience, with less than enlightening results. I had decided to spend the duration of Divali in Pushkar. Divali is called the "Festival of Lights", but it would be more accurate to call it the "Festival of Lights, Cheap Fireworks and Dodgy Firecrakers". The people of India combine a love of light shows with a lack of firework safety standards.

I was showing India to two friends, who just had a couple of weeks with me, and so we were trying to cram as much experience in as possible. Perhaps we took on a little too much on the night of Divali…

After a perfect sunset over the lake, we headed to the famous Rainbow café, the traditional place for a traveller to purchase their Pushkar Bhang Lassie. So after dinner we decided to give it a go and ordered three green mushy drinks. They tasted fine and lulled into a false sense of security. Really there is no way to ascertain how strong your bhang lassie is, until it hits you.

One moment we were sat enjoying a pleasant meal. The next, the room was starting to melt around the edges. The three of us began to giggle at nothing, and from giggling we moved swiftly on into confusion. The voices of the hippies around us became an indistinguishable hum, and their dreadlocks seemed to be doing a dance all of their own. Time to leave. How we ever paid the bill, I will never know, but somehow we made it out of the Rainbow and onto the streets.

Can I ever explain what it is like to be under the influence of a bhang lassie and come face to face with a painted cow in the street? Possibly not. And the cow was just the start of it. We found ourselves in Cartoon Land. The streets are tiny (only just wide enough for a camel and two holy cows) and branch off in all directions. They seem to all look the same- alleyways that lead to more alleyways. Of course you have to watch where you are stepping to avoid the cowpats. But it is hard to watch your feet when there are stalls full of pictures of bright and shiny gods and goddesses, stalls of bright Indian fabrics, stalls of trinkets and gems….like walking through an endless Aladdin's Cave. A kaleidoscope of colours and sparkles. The trinket-sellers seemed to leap out at us and sang their lines at us: "Hello. Your good-name madam?" "Come inside. Only look: looking is free!" Like I said, Cartoon Land.

Just as it was all seeming rather pleasant, we found ourselves walking down an alley without any shops. We were startled to see a small boy of about 7 or 8 stood in a doorway holding a full-size rocket firework in his hands. Not just a rocket firework, but a lit one. Cartoon Land took a sudden twist as we watched the firework shoot out of his hands and explode not so far above our heads.

Astounded and not too sure if we had seen what we had seen, we decided the best plan was to get back to the safety of our hotel as soon as possible. We wandered off down the alleyway that seemed the most likely, and suddenly the ground beneath our feet rumbled, then exploded and there were sparks flying everywhere. We jumped several feet in the air and darted into a nearby doorway. It had seemed confusing enough just paying a bill in a restaurant….now the ground was erupting beneath our feet. How strong were those bhang lassies anyway?

But after a few minutes huddled in our doorway, we saw what was going on. Apparently, the best entertainment on Divali Eve was for the local kids to throw lit firecrackers under the feet of unsuspecting tourists. With the streets being so narrow, there was no easy way to avoid these tourist-mantraps, and with bhang lassie pulsing through one's veins the job became somewhat difficult.

And Reality became a living computer game. Can you dodge the holy cows, trinket-sellers and firecracker-kids and navigate your way through the labyrinth of alleys to find the hotel, out of the hundreds of identical hotels, which has your room in it? Level 4: Under the Influence of a Bhang Lassi.

I am sure we amused those kids, as we cowered in shop doorways and made a dash when it was all clear to the next safety spot. How many circuits of Pushkar we did that night, I'll never know. But somehow we made it to our hotel: Game Over.

Too charged up to go to sleep, we went up to the restaurant on the rooftop of the hotel. We found ourselves sat under a blanket of stars, the shimmering lake in the distance. Fireworks were erupting in radiant displays all over the skies, and we could hear the sound of drums and cheers as the locals performed a dance in a village square. We settled back into our chairs, the bhang lassie now just a warm fuzzy glow of the perceptions, and enjoyed our Divali in Pushkar.

Words by Shashi, who is now living here

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Posted on Saturday, May 20, 2006 at 19:04 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment | References25 References